David Freezer: City’s master communicator had a clear plan from the very start
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
Stuart Webber said he wanted to create a ‘very clear identity’ at Norwich City on his first day as the club’s very first sporting director. Judging by the hugely positive reaction to his new contract, it’s fair to say he’s succeeded.
Even as the 35-year-old revealed to us that he intends to seek a new challenge when his deal expires at the end of 2021-22, the reaction of City fans was mostly of respect for the honesty of an ambitious man and delight at knowing he intends to remain in Norfolk beyond this season.
Let me take you back to that first day at Colney, when the Welshman arrived to begin a lengthy press conference to lay out his masterplan, speaking to the media ahead of Alan Irvine's media briefing ahead of a Championship game against Reading.
Even that sentence is enough to remind us of how much water has flowed under Carrow Road bridge since that day, when Irvine was in caretaker charge after Alex Neil's reign had drawn to unhappy conclusion.
I was first in line to kick-off the questioning that day and the assertive nature and decisive energy of the former Liverpool academy recruitment chief was immediately obvious, despite being just 33 years old at the time.
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The sensible place to start: how had Norwich City teased him away from a chance of promotion with Huddersfield?
"It was a number of things," Webber responded. "If I look back on my career - obviously I'm quite a young guy but I've been to a few places - and one of the things I was always taught was to pick your owners.
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"And the owners here and the board set-up was attractive to me, in terms of being a settled club, a club with a decent idea of where it wants to go - obviously it needs a little bit of help, that's why I'm sat here.
"I look at the resource levels compared to other places I've been and that sort of excites me, as in, if we're creative, what we can do with that."
Could that first answer have been more prescient?
By the end of his first two seasons those very owners had stuck with their man's grand plans and been rewarded with a superb title success which left Delia Smith to hail Webber as "wonderful and a genius".
Where did the club want to go? The Premier League of course, another tick in the box. And being creative with those resources? Well, you only need one name to sum up that vindication: Teemu Pukki.
Webber's press conference and follow-up interviews took around two hours that day, with his many tantalising sound-bites including the fact that he wanted everyone at City to target Premier League standards, from accountants to canteen staff.
Daniel Farke's arrival from Borussia Dortmund of course followed after the season was finished and the revolution truly began, but there were plenty of bumps in the road.
Webber was ready for that when he arrived though, reflecting on the initially slow start to his reign at Huddersfield, as fans grew uneasy at the attempts to play more attractive football.
"That should not change fundamentally, in my opinion, the way you do it," he emphasised. "A big part of me coming here and leading the head coach search is there will be somebody with a very clear identity that then becomes the Norwich way of doing it but not in just chucking the term out there 'the Norwich way' or whatever.
"That will be the way we do it and we'll be honest with people about what that looks like."
And it's that honesty which has earned so much faith, tackling the big issues head on, whether that was disappointing home form, the complex difficulties of the Canaries' finances or fans moaning about Tim Krul's kicking.
If Webber was an MP, you suspect he'd end up as prime minister, such is his talent as a clear communicator. Given the current omnishambles in Westminster, perhaps City fans should be relieved the added security of a long-term contract has arrived...
At every turn of this journey Webber and Farke have put communication with supporters at the heart of their mission, realising that if fans don't understand the ambition, it is difficult to ask for patience.
Both have now accumulated so much faith that even relegation this season is unlikely to see their jobs come under serious threat - and who knows, that lack of pressure might just be a key facet in allowing them to engineer a remarkable survival season.
After the special evening we all enjoyed so much as the champions were humbled at a raucous Carrow Road last weekend, anything is possible.